The recent vote by members of the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli institutions drew quick rebukes from across academe as an affront to academic freedom. Now two U.S. representatives from Illinois—Peter J. Roskam, a Republican, and Daniel W. Lipinski, a Democrat—are asking Congress to take a similar stand. Legislation they have introduced, dubbed the Protect Academic Freedom Act (HR 4009), would deny federal funds to institutions that participate in such boycotts.
“This bipartisan legislation seeks to preserve academic freedom and combat bigotry by shielding Israel from unjust boycotts,” Mr. Roskam said in a news release. He added that Congress “has a responsibility to fight back against these hateful campaigns, which contradict academic freedom and are designed to delegitimize the Jewish State of Israel.” Representative Roskam is a co-chair of the House Republican Israel Caucus.
Representative Lipinski, who was an assistant professor of political science at the University of Tennessee before his election to Congress, in 2004, called the boycott “ill-conceived” and said it would “lead to negative effects on educational and research institutions in both nations.”
Bills that would limit academic boycotts of institutions in other countries have also been considered in at least two state legislatures. In New York, the State Senate approved a bill last month that would cut off state aid to any public or private academic organization that supported a boycott. But that effort stalled this week, when similar legislation in the State Assembly was abruptly withdrawn by one of its sponsors after it was denounced by educators and legal groups. In Maryland a similar bill has been introduced in the State Senate.
The American Association of University Professors—which opposes all academic boycotts, including the one approved by the American Studies Association—released a statement this week criticizing legislative efforts like those in Maryland and New York as “even more dangerous” than the boycotts they oppose. If enacted, the statement says, such legislation would undermine “constitutionally protected academic speech and debate in order to promote a particular viewpoint” and would “set a deplorable precedent for future legislation that might further reduce academic speech.”